Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:41 PM on Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Board determines Refuge Room is hostel, not shelter

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

In round three of the continuing debate over the Refuge Room, a downtown housing facility for men, the Homer City Council, acting as the Board of Adjustment, determined it best can be defined as a hostel. Refuge Chapel, the Pioneer Avenue church that operates Refuge Room in a building next to the church, had appealed to the board an August 2010 Homer Advisory Planning Commission decision that rejected classifying it as a rooming house and instead found Refuge Room operated a shelter for the homeless.

The board's decision released last Friday does not relieve the Refuge Room of getting a conditional use permit. A series of appeals on planning commission decisions started with a 2007 application by the Refuge Room for a CUP. To date, the board has considered these appeals:

• In 2007 the planning commission granted a CUP to the Refuge Room to operate a dormitory-style housing facility for men. The board found a planning department staff member assigned to the case had a disqualifying conflict of interest and remanded to the commission its decision. That CUP application has not been reconsidered.

• In 2009 City Planner Rick Abboud determined the Refuge Room was a rooming house and did not need a CUP. The planning commission voted 2-3 and could not affirm or reverse Abboud's decision. That action was appealed to the Board of Adjustment. In the second appeal in January 2010, it determined the commission failed to support Abboud's decision. It remanded to the commission that non-decision and the question if the Refuge Room is a homeless shelter. The commission decided it was a homeless shelter.

• The Refuge Room appealed that decision to the board, the latest appeal on consideration.

In its latest decision, the Board of Adjustment determined that because the Refuge Room charged a fee and screened guests for alcohol and drug use it was not a homeless shelter. City code defines a hostel as "any building or portion of a building containing dormitory-style sleeping accommodations for not more than 15 guests that are used, rented or hired out on a daily or longer basis."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.